Alex G, Matthew E. White + Son Lux Bring Odd Soul to SXSW
Try as we might, we couldn't escape the pull of the Mohawk at SXSW. Thursday night's (March 19) lineup was another must-see from start to finish. Here were our favorite sets from the night:
"Is it still okay that I don't know how to be alone," the English singer began with a line from "False Hope." It was a spare start, a vulnerable line pared with her steely stare aimed just above the crowd, and then, fittingly, her band joined her. The upright bass boomed, the drums crashed and the guitars fired up. Laura Marling didn't look any less happy, but her troubled lyrics had extra teeth and gnashed verily at our beer-steeped hearts. It's not an easy thing to evoke complex emotions in a crowd full of happy drunks, but the English folk queen did so handily. She favored her new album, of course, Short Movie, delivering the title track with all the accompanying skronk it deserves, dressing up "I Feel Your Love" with all sorts of guitar shimmer, and turned "How Strange I Love You" into a bluegrass jam. "Master Hunter," from Once I Was an Eagle, made a welcome return too. As for banter, it consisted of one fan yelling, "Play your first album," to which she rolled her eyes ever so slightly. And a second fan shouting, "Play whatever you want," which got an index finger of acknowledgement and a small nod from the performer. Marling doled out heartache with the same precision heard in her lyrics, leaving us all wonderfully wounded.
Sometimes shy guys make the best music. Philly shut-in Alex Giannascoli set the microphone to about chest height and wore a cap, so that when he sang his face disappeared from view. That was fine by us — the wonderful thing about the man's music is how idiosyncratic it feels, like hyper-personal poems written in a chapbook no one was ever meant to see, suddenly set to strangely pretty guitar music with earworming melodies. To wit, set to a combination of bent alt-'90s chords and easy surf-lite strum: "Mary is the girl that I wanna kiss / She's got big red eyes and big red lips / She's got big sharp teeth and big fat hips / Mary is the girl that I wanna fuck / She's got leather heart and leather gloves." Catchy as the songs played that night, the quirks in his songcraft — dreamy passages, counterintuitive progressions, disorienting effects — were what set Alex G's apart from all the rest of the introverts coaxing their tunes out of the bedroom and onto the stage.
Matthew E. White
A messianic figure with a sexy baritone and absolute mastery over the guitar, Matthew E. White has no problem owning whatever stage he's on. The bearded Virginian got to work right away, weaving jazz, rock, soul, blues, gospel and dub into a single tapestry of viscous groove. "Let's begin to spiral," he cooed on "Big Love" as the band whipped up something a little more psychedelic — the result of discovering the pocket, then moving every so subtly to the left and right of the thing. He worked a little classic Otis Redding into Big Inner cut "Will You Love Me" ("This loneliness won't leave me alone ...") and tore down music noobs with his recent single, "Rock & Roll Is Cold." We didn't need any explanation other than the song itself to know that his warm sound is an acceptable antidote to that.
We slipped indoors to catch what we could see of Son Lux, a singer/composer genius-type who's lately been playing with a ripping three-piece: a limber-fingered guitarist, a powerful drummer, and the maestro himself, Ryan Lott, on vocals and electronics. Hearing the pensive notes of his 2013 single "Easy" come to life on the fretboard was a treat and the kick drum's pounding in our chest seemed apropos as Son Lux held out his hand and made a beating motion to accompany the line, "Pull out your heart to make being alone ... easy." Better still though was the new material — songs that shed some of his old material's chilly nature, matching the work's impressive musicality with incredible verve.